Lawmakers cautioned on tactics to misuse pork barrel

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Rolando Andaya file photo

MANILA, Philippines—New lawmakers dipping their hands in pork barrel for the first time are advised to stick to the congressional menu and avoid the figurative “botcha” or dirty deals.  They should also be wary of the “budol-budol” gang.

Veteran lawmaker Rolando Andaya of Camarines  Norte gave tips to freshmen lawmakers, on Tuesday, on how to avoid the misuse of their pork—officially called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)—and to exercise caution in handling the controversial fund.

Questions about the use of the PDAF have arisen after the Philippine Daily Inquirer started running a series of articles on an alleged P10 billion scam where the pork barrel went to bogus projects through fictitious groups.

Andaya spoke at an orientation program for the new lawmakers who held a mock session to get a feel of how an actual session goes.

Andaya specifically advised the neophyte lawmakers to be wary of peddlers of “botcha” who roam the halls of Congress and knock on their doors with incredible financial offers. “Botcha”—a slang for dirty meat—refers to bogus projects funded by the pork barrel.

“Beware of botcha. You will encounter their purveyors here,” Andaya said.

Andaya also referred to the botcha peddlers as the budol-budol gang, or con-artists. Members of the group walk around in suits or skirts, sometimes short skirts, he noted.

What should trigger suspicion about these groups is that they make incredible financial offers to the lawmakers, according to Andaya.  For instance, if they offer a project to “plant mangroves on street islands,” lawmakers should realize they are being taken for a ride.

Not all offers would be so blatantly bogus, of course, but lawmakers should consider the feasibility of projects, he said.

“If you’re in doubt, don’t go for it,” he said.

To ensure the proper spending of their pork barrel, lawmakers should choose projects clearly on the “menu” provided by the budget department, he said.

In an ambush interview, Andaya said this menu of projects had changed with the times since purveyors of scams also changed their tactics.

“They mutate so the menu should also evolve to answer for these new schemes,” he told reporters.

He said the list of projects that could be funded by the pork barrel has actually evolved to answer the needs of the times. He described the current menu as strict but it could still be improved, he said.

Lawmakers should also know about the proper procedure for the release of funds. Moreover, they should be aware of what’s going on in their districts so they would know what projects to fund, he said.

“Beware of those who will knock on your doors with signed Saros (special allotment release orders). Those are fake. You should know all about your district, so that you will not fall prey to the budol-budol gang,” he told the neophytes.

During the orientation program, Andaya also gave tips on how the new lawmakers could effectively scrutinize the budget.

He said the budget should be looked at not as an accounting ledger but as a blueprint for development.

“The highest form of service we can give to those who sent us here is to make the budget work for them,” he said.

Andaya also noted that through the budget, lawmakers could fund projects that either help them get re-elected or dash their hopes at the polls.

According to Andaya, lawmakers must keep in mind that in exercising the power of the purse, they are appropriating money, not printing it. They must also remember that any bill they pass would need funding.

In tackling the budget, lawmakers must do their homework and ask substantial questions rather than focus on making soundbites to get on the news. The budget hearings should not be seen as oratorical contests, he said.

During hearings, they should avoid repeating questions that have already been asked and should focus on matters involving national policy rather than parochial concerns.

They also must not unnecessarily antagonize the executive officials who are defending their agencies’ budgets.

“Don’t burn bridges if you are asking for bridges,” he said. “It’s useless to make enemies out of persons with deep pockets and long memories.”

Lawmakers should also ask about the economic impact of projects and how these would affect their districts, he added.

According to Andaya, the lawmakers’ power of the purse is not absolute since the President has powers to control fund disbursement.

“For every congressional right, there is a countervailing executive privilege,” he said.

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